The History of Fertility Charting

Since I am new to fertility awareness-based methods (FABMs), I thought it would be fun to dig into the historical background: how these methods of natural birth control have been perceived, how they continue to evolve, and how they are changing the lives of women.

Despite the growing number of fertility awareness options available today, and the research supporting them, certain myths and misconceptions still exist questioning the effectiveness and benefits of FABMs.  

Let’s talk about what FABMs are not.

  • FABMs are not the Rhythm Method.

When I Google searched “facts about fertility awareness” this image immediately popped up (can you spot the error?)

FAM FALSE.jpg

Likely the greatest resistance to the acceptance of FABMs is the common misassociation with the Rhythm Method. Popularized in the 1932 book “The Rhythm of Sterility and Fertility in Women” by Dr. Leo J. Latz, the Rhythm Method recommends counting the cycle days on a calendar to identify the fertile window. This method falsely assumes that individual women have reliable and consistent cycle lengths over time, which is why this method has become notorious for it’s low effectiveness rate. The Rhythm Method also overlooks biological indicators like basal body temperature and cervical mucus.

  • FABMs effectiveness is not always accurately represented. Earlier this year (February 2017), the CDC reported that fertility awareness-based methods have a 24% failure rate. In response, a petition organized by Fertility Appreciation Collaborative to Teach the Science (FACTS) and Natural Womanhood, a health literacy program for women, is requesting the CDC update the website with current, more fact-based data. FACTS argues that combining all FABMs into one single effectiveness rate is misleading. Lumping together old methods (like the rhythm method) and newer methods masks important differences in their effectiveness. There are a lot of different fertility awareness based methods to choose from. Verily gives a short synopsis of some of the more common methods here.  It’s important to note that they employ different primary fertility signs (or a combination of primary and secondary fertility signs) as well have varying rates of effectiveness.

  • FABMs are not being taught in medical school. According to Taking Charge of Your Fertility, omittance of fertility awareness education from medical school curricula is perpetuating widespread ignorance in the medical community “looking at past cycles to predict future fertility.” It is reported that only 6% of medical professionals are aware of FABMs true efficacy rates.

Judith Nowlin, CEO and Co-Founder of iBirth App, a software-as-a-service platform aimed at improving health outcomes for women and their families, says the reaction of women she encountered once they learn about FABMs is usually, “"How come no one ever told me this before?" She commented that “Even my physician friends were shocked saying, "We didn't learn this in Med School."

Let’s talk about what FABMs are, though.

  • FABMs are generating more interest. The increase in period tracking apps (there are over 100 available now on the iTunes App Store!) means more women are charting their menstrual cycles. Toni Weschler’s national bestseller, Taking Charge of Your Fertility, celebrated it’s 20th anniversary edition in 2015 and is “one of the most universally lauded health books on the market today.” It is often (lovingly) referred to as “The Book” and described as essential reading for women who want to become pregnant, avoid pregnancy naturally, and understand their reproductive health.

  • FABMs are changing the culture. While “the pill” was once considered a symbol of feminist freedom, manywomen now find a deeper sense of independence and control inknowing how their body works and taking ownership of their reproductivehealth to navigate their fertility. Kristin Detloff, National NFP Coordinator and Instructor for SymptoPro, a fertility education program, says the need for natural, effective methods has significantly changed the demographic landscape. “40 plus years ago, the vast majority of clients were primarily motivated out of a desire to follow religious teachings of their church. While these natural methods continue to be utilized by the religiously motivated client, today’s client base is as diverse as the culture surrounding it, with users coming from an ever-growing range of backgrounds and motivations.”

  • FABMS are a labor of love. Fertility awareness is a journey. Practicing these methods require daily attention to your body - like going to the gym to meet your fitness goals. FABMs are not a causal “set it and forget it” type of activity, but a personal learning ritual; observing, documenting and studying your primary fertility signs including BBT or cervical fluid. While fertility awareness is a serious commitment, the practice is flexible enough to customize and make your own.   

As fertility awareness continues to gain popularity, Kindara (a majority female company!) is leading the way with scientifically-backed tools and technology, educational resources and strategic partnerships with companies and communities that share the same values of empowering women. What has been your experience navigating fertility awareness-based methods? Share your story with us over at support@kindara.com.

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